Lawsuit seeks to block Arizona ban on Down syndrome abortion
PHOENIX - Abortion-rights advocates filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to overturn a new Arizona law that would ban abortions because of Down syndrome or other genetic abnormalities, the latest legal fight over reproductive rights under a judiciary that moved to the right during Donald Trump’s presidency.
The lawsuit also challenges a "personhood" provision that confers all the rights of people on fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses. The law is set to take effect Sept. 29 if it’s not blocked by a judge.
"You have a constitutional right to an abortion, and that right does not take into account your reason for having an abortion," said Emily Nestler, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Politicians should not get to interrogate people’s reasons for seeking an abortion."
Emboldened by the U.S. Supreme Court’s turn to the right during Trump’s term, Republican-controlled legislatures around the country have embraced efforts to further restrict or outright ban abortion. States enacted more than 90 new restrictions on abortion this year, the most in decades, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.
The high court in May signaled its willingness to reconsider Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion before a fetus could survive outside a mother’s womb, generally around 24 weeks. The justices agreed to consider a Mississippi law that seeks to ban abortions after 15 weeks.
The Arizona suit challenges key provisions of SB1457, which was signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in April after it passed the GOP-controlled Legislature in party-line votes.
The measure allows prosecutors to seek felony charges against doctors who provide abortions when they know it’s solely because of a genetic abnormality in the fetus. Anyone who helps raise money or pay for such an abortion also could be charged. Doctors also can lose their medical license, and any medical or mental health professionals who fail to report such an abortion could be fined $10,000.
The lawsuit says the law will have a chilling effect on the communications between doctors and patients, preventing physicians from counseling women about a difficult decision. And it says the threat of criminal penalties will discourage abortions for any reason if the doctor has cause to suspect the fetus could have a genetic abnormality.
Abortion opponents say the bill ensures children diagnosed with disabilities before birth don’t face discrimination. Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion group Center for Arizona Policy, called the bill "one of the most significant pro-life bills in recent history" when it was signed into law in April. She could not immediately be reached for comment on the lawsuit.
Down syndrome abortion bans have gained traction recently in several GOP-controlled states, most recently in Arizona and South Dakota. Though the laws are on hold in several states, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed Ohio and Tennessee to enforce them.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina this year vetoed a Down syndrome abortion ban passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two doctors who perform abortions, the National Council of Jewish Women, the National Organization of Women and the Arizona Medical Association.
- Pro-choice, pro-life supporters weigh in on new Arizona law that bans abortion based on genetic abnormalities
- GOP-controlled Arizona Legislature advancing anti-abortion measures
- Arizona Senate panel OKs ban on abortions for genetic problems
- Arizona lawmaker proposes ‘homicide by abortion’ bill
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